'Millions More' Rally on National Mall

Organizers have invited a multitude to gather on the National Mall today for the Millions More Movement, a 10th anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March. The march in 1995 attracted hundreds of thousands of black men, who pledged to take personal responsibility for their families and communities.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Tens of thousands turned out on the National Mall in Washington today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, an event that, like today's demonstration, was intended to galvanize African-Americans for social action. NPR's Allison Keyes has more.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

From the very beginning of the program, when speakers from Native American and Latino communities took the stage, it was clear that this was a very different event than the men-only Million Man March in 1995. Many here in the crowd said they came to join what organizers have said will be a movement to improve conditions in the black community. Twenty-four-year-old Kimberly Dobbins(ph) of Memphis, Tennessee, says she was compelled to come for several reasons.

Ms. KIMBERLY DOBBINS: There's people here of all nationalities and, you know, we're here for one common cause and it's to make change. So to be a part of that change, I have to come here and physically be here.

KEYES: Twenty-eight-year-old Charles Leslie(ph), a Chicagoan attending the University of Memphis, says he hopes this march will change his life.

Mr. CHARLES LESLIE: Even if I didn't find a million, you know, to find a hundred or 1,000 with the right mind for social change, man, that's big. That's what I'm here for.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) and sing...

KEYES: Another difference between this rally and the 1995 march is that women like Barbara James(ph) of Wichita, Kansas, were invited this time around as partners in the movement for change.

Ms. BARBARA JAMES: The first time it was for men, so this time it's for everybody. So, I mean, probably this will be the last time I'll ever be able to do it, so why not come out and be a part of history in the making?

(Soundbite of people talking)

Unidentified Man: We are one. We are one.

KEYES: While it was clear there weren't as many here as there were at the 1995 march, it was difficult to gauge how many attended, partly because the audience was shunted off into mazelike sections of green fencing with large cordoned-off areas in between them. Shaheed Muhammed(ph), who drove here from Memphis, Tennessee, was angry.

Mr. SHAHEED MUHAMMED: I didn't think ...(unintelligible) they got all these barriers around here, though. It's like we're in a cage, the way they got these barriers set up right here. It wasn't like in '95, where in '95 we just walked straight up to the front. There was no hindrance. There was no barriers or nothing.

KEYES: Muhammed, as did many in the crowd, came to show support for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He organized this march, as he did the 1995 gathering. His involvement then offended critics and Jewish groups have denounced this gathering as well. During Farrakhan's speech, he made statements some could find controversial, including again calling for a class-action lawsuit against federal agencies for their response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. The point of this event, according to Farrakhan, was to begin a movement.

Mr. LOUIS FARRAKHAN (Nation of Islam Leader): What we say can only become flesh if we go from this place and mobilize and organize street by street, block by block, house by house.

KEYES: The 10-point program organizers put forth includes unity, support for Buy Black campaigns, an end to police brutality, a demand for reparations for slavery and an end to wars and foreign aggression. There was some controversy. A gay activist scheduled to speak was dropped from the program at the last moment. There were gaps in the schedule and so many speakers that it was sometimes difficult to follow the message. But many in the audience said they felt the same spirit of unity and racial solidarity that characterized the first march. And they said they would take that message of getting involved back to their communities.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

ELLIOTT: Coming up on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, a debate on the merits of today's demonstration.

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